Friday, September 3, 2010

It’s Still Anybody’s Guess

Don’t worry, we should all finally know who will form government early next week, possibly on Monday. But until then it is still anybody’s guess. It would be easy to think that the Labor Party has pulled slightly ahead of the Coalition as being more likely to emerge as the victor because of the deals dome this week. On Wednesday, Julia Gillard signed an agreement with Greens leader Bob Brown guaranteeing the support of the newly elected Green Adam Bandt, and yesterday Andrew Wilke, the Tasmanian independent, also declared his support for Labor. This brings the tally to 74 seats controlled by Labor, 73 controlled by the Coalition, with the three country independents yet to make their decision. Labor still needs two more seats, and the Coalition requires three more, and with the three amigos virtually certain to act collectively, it could still go either way.

Of course, if the three from the country choose to support Labor it would mean a larger majority in the House than would be the case if they choose to support the Coalition, but only by one extra seat. It has been suggested that if stability of government is the highest priority then a majority of two is twice as good as a majority of one, so on that basis Labor should get the nod. On the other hand, Andrew Wilke chose to support Labor at least in part because it is clear that a majority of his constituents in Dennison would prefer a Labor government. If the three country independents were to apply the same principle it is clear that they should throw their support behind Tony Abbott and the Coalition. But of course, there are other factors that will also come into play, including the policy agenda of each party as well as the contentious Treasury costings of the Coalition’s promises.

Then there is the personal factor, with individual relationships having the potential to sway the final decision one way or another. Kevin Rudd has a long standing friendship with Bob Katter, while none of the three independents have a warm relationship with the National Party. Even though the policies of the Labor Party may not align with everything on Mr. Katter’s wish list, there is every chance that the courtesy extended to him in the past might now be returned by support in the Parliament. But there are no guarantees either way, and it remains anybody’s guess just which way it will go next week. Either way however, it is the Independent members who have the most to lose if there is another election before the Parliament runs a full term. Whichever side they eventually choose to support, you can bet your bottom dollar they will do everything they can to hold onto the influence they have had unexpectedly thrust into their hands.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Endless Parade Of Embarrassments

Just when we were all beginning to tire of the never ending saga of the federal election, along comes a New South Wales government scandal to liven things up. While we wait the next few days for the independents to make up their minds whom they will support, we can all be entertained and amazed by the antics of the state government. The Minister for Ports and Waterways Paul McLeay has been forced to resign after it was revealed that he had been accessing pornography and gaming websites with a tax-payer provided computer. He is the fourth minister to resign since Kristina Keneally became Premier, and the ninth since the last election. Whether or not checking out dodgy websites at work should be considered a sackable offence is something that people might disagree over, but either way the parade of embarrassments would seem to be apparently endless.

It’s really neither here nor there if Paul McLeay, or any other politician, has been checking out porn and gaming websites in his spare time, although it must be said that any such activity in the workplace is never a good idea for two reasons. One, if it’s the workplace, you’re supposed to be working, and two, if colleagues are in any way affected or offended there is a significant problem. For those reasons, no matter whether you might be a free spirit or a prude, it is never a good idea at work. For a politician however, it is just stupid to get caught out in that way because public opinion is the lifeblood of politics, and a significant proportion of the public will have a very low opinion of such behaviour.

While Christian Democrat Fred Nile has also been caught up in the same audit of computer use, he has denied any wrong doing. The audit reportedly showed up more than 200 000 hits on porn sites using the Reverend Nile’s logon identification. He claims that it wasn’t him, and that the results arise from a staff member using his ID to conduct research on the Australian Sex Party and the Eros Foundation. Reverend Nile claims that the Clerk of the Parliament has reported to him that the audit result refers not to websites accessed, but to pop-ups. Anyone who has ever used the internet will immediately realise just how annoying and persistent pop up advertising, especially for porn sites, can be. The moment you try to close one pop up, several more will, well, pop up. Perhaps Paul McLeay should have used the same alibi and claimed that he too was doing “research”.

The funny thing is that it probably isn’t going to make much difference to the government’s chances of re-election for the simple reason that those chances were already close to non-existent anyway. It’s not just the revolving door on the Premier’s office which has seen constant changes of leadership without any improvement in performance, and it’s not just the human failings of individual politicians who have been caught up in a variety of scandals ranging from the merely embarrassing right through to the downright outrageous and even the potentially criminal. It is the sum of all these parts and more. It is the perception that this state government is not only inept and incompetent, but it is self obsessed, riddled with cronyism and patronage, and completely overcome with the weight of its own inertia.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Battle Has Been Won, But The Real War Is Just Beginning.

The High Court of Australia has today handed a victory to Peter Spencer. Mr. Spencer , you may remember, is the New South Wales farmer who came to international prominence through staging a hunger strike at the top of a pole at the beginning of this year. For 52 days he camped out on a platform with minimal shelter perched high above the ground in a desperate attempt to promote his cause. That cause is property rights, and in particular the constitutional guarantee of proper compensation “on just terms” for the compulsory acquisition of property. Mr. Spencer had argued for years that the provisions of the New South Wales Native Vegetation Act which prevented the clearing of land in compliance with the Commonwealth Government commitment with the Kyoto Protocol for carbon reduction amounted to the removal of his property rights.

Mr. Spencer had previously taken this matter to the Federal Court of Australia which summarily dismissed his claim by ruling that it should not be heard on the grounds that there was no reasonable prospect of success. Mr. Spencer then appealed to the full bench of the Federal Court to for leave to have his claim heard, but that appeal was also rejected with the full bench upholding the original ruling that there was no reasonable prospect of success. Finally, Mr. Spencer has appealed to the High Court of Australia seeking leave to have his case heard. Today, the High Court has ruled that the Federal Court was wrong to refuse to hear the case, and has awarded costs to Mr. Spencer.

What this means is that Mr. Spencer now has the opportunity to argue his case in the Federal Court seeking recognition of his claim to property rights and compensation for the impact upon those rights by the combined effect of State and Federal legislation. It is a significant victory, but it doesn’t mean that Mr. Spencer has won his case just yet. It means that he has won the right to have his case heard, although that is in itself an important outcome. Most of us would like to think that we have a system of justice that allows us to at least have our grievances heard rather than dismissed out of hand. Now at least that much has been achieved, so that the vital question of just what our property rights really amount to can be properly examined.

The battle has been won, but the real war is just beginning.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nobody Is Holding The Country To Ransom

It’s not surprising that many people are becoming impatient with the process of resolving the recent federal election. Why, people ask, is it taking so long? Why can’t the independent members just make a decision and we can all get on with it? Why are a handful of independents able to hold the country to ransom, demanding special favours for their electorates? It is understandable that many people might be asking these questions, but what is troubling is that these are all questions that have been asked by supposedly professional media presenters who seem to lack any comprehension of the process, and who really should know better. They should be in a position to answer these questions, not to ask them.

Research has shown that more than 50% of Australians are to some degree anxious or worried about the uncertain election result. That isn’t helped when people who might be expected to be well informed are instead promoting an ill-informed view. The truth is that the three country independents, along with Andrew Wilke, Adam Bandt, and Tony Crook are not holding anybody to ransom. All of them have been elected by their constituents and through no design of their own have now found themselves in a position where they must make a choice, whether they want to or not. Surely it is only right and proper that they all exert every effort to examining the issues and making a well reasoned decision. For that to happen, they should not be made to rush into declaring support for one side or another by some arbitrarily determined deadline.

Of course, this state of suspended animation cannot continue forever, and while there is no set deadline, there is a process. First, every last vote must be counted, and that won’t be completed until the end of this week at the earliest for the simple reason that the rules allow 13 days for postal votes to arrive. Second, the Governor General will call upon the incumbent Prime Minister to advise whether or not she can form a government, and if not the same question will be put to the Opposition Leader. Thirdly, whichever leader has claimed the ability to form government will be sworn in and the government commissioned. Fourth, the parliament will sit and the new government will test its numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The next scheduled sitting of Parliament was set down for the 20th of September, although once a government is formed that schedule can be changed. Clearly the independents will have to make up their minds before then, but the delay so far has had virtually no impact on the day to day lives of ordinary Australians. Far from failing, the system is working well. The incumbent government remains in office in a caretaker capacity, and protocols exist for dealing with important matters which might arise. Instead of being fearful of the uncertainty, we should take comfort from the certainty provided by living in a stable secure community which has such a peaceful process for determining government. Far from being impatient for a result, we should be proud of a process which is now going to require all of our elected representatives to step up to the challenge of providing sound government.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Prime Minister In Waiting

It seems that everybody wants a piece of the action. Not only have the so called Country Independents put together their seven steps to forming government, the Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilke has put together his own list of 20 points to be addressed by the major parties to help him make his decision on who to support. He says they are not demands, but “priorities”. About half of them are national issues, while the other half relate to his electorate. Not to be left out, National Party members have started making noises about exerting their influence in any potential Coalition minority government.

The Nationals argue that without them the Liberal Party would be hopelessly short of numbers, and therefore deserve at least the same consideration as the Independents might receive in terms of any benefits for their electorates. Clearly there is a concern that the Independent’s might be courted with promises of increased services and infrastructure in their electorates, but the Nationals are concerned that the lack of any such benefits in their own electorates would not be a good look. And they have a valid point. If the Independents are seen to be doing better than the Nationals it would further erode the image of the Party in places where voters are already questioning their relevance and their worth.

It’s a fine line to walk because any disharmony would serve to undermine the Coalition’s chances of persuading anyone that they can form a stable minority government. But, the Nationals cannot afford to be left on the sidelines either, which is what they risk if the Independents get all the gravy. This period of negotiation is a real test of leadership for the Nationals, because while they are not the senior Coalition Party, they now confront a unique opportunity to re-establish their relevance in the country community. It’s also a test of leadership for Tony Abbott, who must somehow keep the coalition unified in the face of such internal frictions.

If he can manage to do that, it will go a long way to establishing his credentials as a Prime Minister in waiting.